At the peak of Wid Keeling's baling season, he works long hours — sometimes almost around the clock. That makes it tough for him to keep good employees.
“I haven't been able to find good hands who want to stay,” says Keeling, of Rising Star, TX. “We work so many hard hours that they get burned out and leave.”
He addressed that problem five years ago, attaching his rake between his tractor and baler. Now he rakes, bales and accumulates in one pass. He needs one less hired hand and tractor, plus haying takes less time.
“It's like the difference between driving 65 and 70 mph,” he says. “It's a little faster when you don't have to jump on the other tractor, or have another hired hand.”
A pto shaft housed in 8” square tubing runs from the tractor through the rake to the baler. Similarly, a hydraulic hose runs from the tractor, along the rake's frame and through the baler to the 10-bale accumulator.
Keeling claims the long pto shaft doesn't cause turning problems.
“If you turn too sharp with any pto shaft you'll have problems,” he says. “But I don't have any more trouble with this than I would with any other piece of equipment.”
Turning around at the ends of small fields isn't a big deal, either.
“It's a little hard to back up. But as long as I've got the idea that I'm just going to keep going forward, I haven't had any trouble in smaller fields. The rake follows right behind the tractor, and the baler follows like a tail.”
This Texan likes his three-in-one haying rig.
“I'm very happy with it,” he says. “I couldn't imagine running without it now.”
Keeling likes raking bermudagrass hay at the same time he bales it. Hay feeds into the baler better, there's less sun bleaching and windrows are never tossed around by wind.
“I think I can do a cleaner, neater job,” he says. “I usually don't leave hardly any hay in the field.”
The 14-wheel high-capacity rake gathers up to 30' of mowed hay — two wide windrows from his self-propelled cutter. But the rake can be adjusted in heavy hay to deliver just one windrow to the baler.
“It's got to be 80-90 bales/acre-plus before I'll go down to just a single windrow,” he reports.
He owns 360 acres and also buys standing hay that he bales and resells. He does most of the work himself, but hires part-time help when it's available.
He makes about 120,000 small bales per summer and trades for a new baler every year. About 80% of the bales are sold directly out of the field. With a tractor and front-end loader, he loads the 10-bale bunches directly onto trucks. One buyer takes 50,000-60,000 bales a year.
He also makes 5,000-6,000 round bales per year from weedy, overmature or rained-on hay. Most of that hay is sold to an out-of-state coal mining company for use in land reclamation. The round baler is pulled behind the rake, too.